Sailors dominate Singapore Sports Awards

Justin Ong
Fit to Post Sports

Singapore sailors Rachel Lee and Cecilia Low en route to gold in the Women's Double Handed Dinghy 420 at the 16th Asian Games in China, 2010. (Photo By Jin Dawei/ColorChinaPhoto)

The Republic’s sailors swept the bulk of major accolades at the annual Singapore Sports Awards held Tuesday evening at the Singapore Expo.

Junior Team of the Year went to the only finalist in contention, the National Sailing Optimist Team, while the senior 420 Women’s Team pipped Singapore’s more vaunted female bowlers and paddlers to Team of the Year (Event) honours.

With about 400 guests in attendance, sailing coach Fernando Javier Alegre Arbulu then won Coach of the Year and sailor Elisa Yukie Yokoyama was named Sportsgirl of the Year to give the relatively unheralded sport four out of seven key awards.

The rest were snapped up by bowler Keith Saw (Sportsboy of the Year), the national football men’s squad (Team of the Year for Team Sport) and Olympic bronze medal-winning table tennis ace Feng Tianwei (Sportswoman of the Year).

Singapore football players celebrate with the trophy after defeating Thailand during their AFF Suzuki football Cup final second leg in Bangkok last year. Singapore beat Thailand 3-2. (AFP PHOTO / PORNCHAI KITTIWONGSAKU)

“It’s an awesome feat for sailing,” said Jessie Phua, chairperson of the Singapore Sports Awards organising committee. “But they deserve it, they’ve worked hard… (and are now) winning on practically all frontiers.”

Even with a slew of world championship titles to her name, Yokoyama still paused to attribute her achievements to her teammates in the National Sailing Optimist Team as well as their coach Alegre.

Said the pint-sized 16-year-old, who also pocketed an S$8,000 incentive, “The team award is also very important to me because without my team I wouldn’t have gotten Sportsgirl of the Year… they motivate me to work harder.”

“And Coach Fernando is like my second father, a really great coach and very passionate,” added Yokoyama, who had to fend off wushu pugilist Vera Tan to become Sportsgirl of the Year. “Without him I wouldn’t have achieved what I’ve achieved today.”

Phua praised Alegre, whose category pitted him against the more popular and recognised national football coach Radojko Avramovic.

“Fernando was instrumental in putting in all these development programmes that Singapore sailing now so proudly boasts of,” said Phua.

But the biggest upset of the night was undoubtedly the National Sailing 420 Women’s Team victory over the Olympic exploits of the table tennis women’s team.

Winning sailor Cecilia Low, who will share the S$10,000 reward with partner Rachel Lee, was taken aback as she had “expected table tennis to win”.

“Yes, it’s a huge surprise beating table tennis,” admitted the 22-year-old. “I was stunned.”

Singapore's Feng Tianwei in Paris last month, during the fourth round of the Women's Singles of the World Table Tennis Championships. (AFP PHOTO / THOMAS SAMSON)

Fellow sailor Yokoyama refrained from placing too much importance on snagging awards.

“My main aim is to sharpen my skills and maybe one day… go for the Olympics,” said the newly-crowned Sportsgirl of the Year. “But I don’t think these sports awards should be about specific goals. If I get it, it’s just a bonus.”

For now, the teenager is focused on “working hard to make the years ahead good sailing years”.

Sportsgirl of the Year, sailor Elisa Yukie Yokoyama and Sportsboy of the Year, bowler Keith Saw. (Yahoo! Photo)

Boys to men

Yokoyama’s male counterpart, Saw, is similarly looking ahead in anticipation of the “attention and pressure” that comes with being named Sportsboy of the Year.

Saw, who is also S$8,000 richer now, added, “Actually I dream of being Sportsman (of the Year)… being Sportsboy is my first step.”

The Sportsman of the Year award, however, was conspicuously absent from proceedings, after a selection committee deemed that none of the male athletes nominated had achieved enough in 2012.

Last year’s World Pencak Silat Championship champion Muhd Shakir Juanda, table tennis player Gao Ning, sailor Colin Cheng and wushu exponent Seet Wee Key had to settle for Meritorious Awards instead.

Singapore's Wee Key Seet competes in men's wushi taiji quan competition at the 26th Southeast Asian Games in Jakarta, 2011. (AFP PHOTO / HOANG DINH Nam)

When approached for comment, Nominated Member of Parliament Nicholas Fang, who was part of the selection committee, reiterated that they were “not putting down the achievements (of) the athletes”.

But sport in Singapore has changed in the past few years, he argued.

“When I was an athlete, the Southeast Asian Games was a decent benchmark,” said the ex-national fencer. “Getting a medal was not bad and gold was a pretty big deal… but we’re aiming for bigger and better things now.”

Fang added, “We’re looking at Olympic medals not as a dream, but a regular reality.”

In view of that, said the former journalist, it is important that the “right signals are sent to the sports fraternity”.

“Hopefully, the positive spin here is our male athletes keep trying to achieve higher and higher things,” concluded Fang.

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